Manufacture of clothing usually relies on different processes completed in different factories. The supply chain proves to be complex for all items of clothing, with a variety of different processes, from cotton picking, and weaving, to dying and printing. It may be the case that a clothing retailer is aware of their first-tier suppliers; however further down the chain, due to lack of transparency in the clothing manufacture industry, the retailer may not be able to determine where the cotton for their products is sourced, or even who is working to complete their garments.
So what are companies doing, to better monitor and control their fashion industry supply chains?
Many companies do not own their own factories, which is conducive to the retailers’ lack of visibility of the conditions under which their garments are manufactured.
Gradually, systems are being put in place to protect those who have fallen victim to the ‘darker’ elements of the fashion industry supply chain. Back in 2015, the UK passed the Modern Slavery Act, in an attempt to protect current and potential future victims; with fines imposed upon companies should they fail to provide an annual anti-slavery report. However, improving transparency in the fashion industry supply-chain, is complex, and not a process which can be remedied with a quick-fix.
As a starting point, companies can begin to monitor and control their supply chains by simply publishing their supplier details, on their retail website. Some companies conduct supplier assessments; publishing the results, using easy to understand terminology, into the public domain. Other companies may even go so far as to publish information about the positive effects of their improvements to their supply chain processes, and detail how it is benefitting workers, and the brand overall.
Additionally, many companies are now using tools to enable them to compile and document all relevant information about the origins of their products. This enables companies to gain a plethora of knowledge they may not have previously been aware of, including information concerning tracing the fabric to its source, to itemised costs of everything, up to the safety pin that secures their labels.
One tool which is improving transparency in the fashion industry supply chain, is not a particularly new technology; but RFID tracking. The code in RFID tags electronically stores copious amounts of information during manufacture, which can be used to track a product’s production progress.
RFID tracking is becoming more common in the fashion industry supply chain, with the purpose of storing important information about product manufacture, including: who produced the fabric, and where the garment was completed. RFID tracking is used by companies, for companies, to literally map their clothes’ manufacture journey to completion, enabling a company greater scope for transparency concerning the manufacture of their garments.
Similarly (Quick Response) QR Codes are now also being used in the fashion industry; applications include product tracking, item identification and time tracking to name but a few. In the fashion industry, QR Codes serve the purpose of tracking the story of each garments’ manufacture process. QR codes are matrix barcodes, which quickly became popular outside the automotive industry due to fast readability and greater storage capacity compared to standard barcodes. As the name suggests, information can be accessed instantly and directly; usually with the simple scan of a smart-phone. QR Codes can be found on the clothing tags of retailers who are working to provide greater transparency of their clothing manufacture supply chain to their consumers.
QR codes work synchronously with other tools being used in an attempt to enhance the visibility of the supply chain for garment manufacture; for instance, the apps ‘sourcemap’ and ‘cotton-connect’. With the use of these apps, cotton can be fully traced from farmer to store, ensuring farmers are using sustainable practices. The ‘Cotton-Connect’ app is ideal for both the consumer and designer; dedicated to the production of sustainable cotton. Apps like these allow the consumer to learn which brands they purchase are committed to using ethically sourced cotton; and enables designers to not only learn where to purchase organic cotton, but also to establish those who promote safe work environments for their workers.
RFID tracking, QR Codes and tracking apps, are just the beginning of the fight for greater transparency in the fashion industry supply chain. In support of retailers beginning and continuing to monitor and control their fashion industry supply chains; Fashion Revolution co-founder Carry Somers commented: “People have the right to know that their money is not supporting exploitation, human rights abuses and environmental destruction”.
Transparency of supply chains in the fashion industry is important; even though there is still much we don’t know about the people who make our clothes from farm to retail, with everyday advances in technology and ever-more solutions now being implemented, companies shall soon be able to completely understand the manufacturing processes of their garments, and be aware of all of those involved, within which tasks.
Similarly important, is transparency within the food industry supply chain. The ability for companies to understand where and how different food products are sourced, and workers’ conditions, enables companies to make fully informed decisions about which suppliers they choose to work with; It also ultimately prevents any further situations concerning potential disparity of information, similar to that involved with the alleged Horse Meat scandal of 2013.
As ever more consumers begin to judge a brand’s credibility based on how transparent it is, supply chain transparency in the fashion Industry is becoming an ever more apparent important factor in the manufacture and now, ultimately purchase of garments. The more comprehensive an understanding a company has of their supply chain, the better equipped they will be to make more informed business decisions. Supply chain transparency in principal, is the obligatory commitment to highlighting and addressing the negative aspects of a product cycle.
Without solutions, lack of supply chain transparency in the fashion industry costs lives.